21.10.12

St. Werburgh's Church

Sunday, 13 May 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Today I attended the service at St. Werburgh’s Church here in Dublin. The current building was built in 1719, the church itself dates back to 1178. While it now belongs to the Church of Ireland (the Anglican church of Ireland) it could be argued St. Werburgh’s was an “Anglican Church” from the very start. Built just after the arrival of Anglo-Norman into Dublin, it was frequented by immigrants from Bristol.

St. Werburgh's Church entrance
Even the church’s name is Emglish. St. Werburgh or Werburga was the daughter of the 7th century King Wulfhere of Mercia. She became the abbess of Ely in Cambridgeshire, following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great aunt. Werburgh was well loved in life and after her death a large cult formed around her. Several churches are named for her, but the one here in Dublin is believed to be the oldest.

Steeple per 1810
The church has had several modifications. In 1754 a fire damaged the interior and it was replaced in 1759. In 1777 a lofty steeple was added, then removed in 1810, the rest of the tower in 1836. The authorities said the fire had damaged the steeple making it unsafe. Some believe the tower overlooking Dublin Castle, made the Lord Lieutenant nervous. There had been those revolts in 1798 and 1803 after all. Or perhaps he feared the ghost of Lord Edward FitzGerald whose body lies in an ancient crypt beneath the church might use the advantage point?

Lord Edward FitzGerald was born in 1763, the fifth son of the Lord of Leinster. Wealthy, educated, highborn and handsome, Edward had a cushy life to look forward to. Pheasant hunting was not his style, though. He entered the British military reaching the rank of major, dabbled in politics as a Member of the Irish Parliament, and even explored the New World where he was adopted by the Hurons.

Then in 1792 FitzGerald ventured to Paris and lodged with a revolutionary named Thomas Paine. Having inspired the American Revolution, Paine was now working on the French. Paine didn’t hold it against FitzGerald that he had fought for the Brits against the Americans in their Revolution. FitzGerald was inspired by Paine. A year later he returned to the Irish Parliament, defending the Society of United Irishmen who wanted more independence from Great Britain. At that point they were hoping for constitutional reform. By 1896 both the United Irishmen and FitzGerald gave up and decided to follow the example of America and France.

Lord Edward FitzGerald
Lord Edward FitzGerald, descended from Norman conquerors on his father’s side and great-great-grandson to King Charles on his mother’s, put his lot in with the poor downtrodden of his country and became a leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. When the French allies failed to turn up and things went bad, FitzGerald turned down the chance to escape, staying with his men. He was shot while resisting arrest and subsequently died of his untreated wounds before he could be officially executed. The rebellion not only failed to make Ireland independent, but gave the opposite side the excuse to absorb Ireland into Great Britain as the United Kingdom.

Ironically Town-Major Henry Sirr, the man who arrested Lord Edward FitzGerald is buried in the church’s graveyard.

Besides St. Werburgh’s most famous burial,it’s most famous baptism is probably that of Jonathan Swift, who became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Swift though is better remembered for his satire, Gulliver’s Travels.

Even with her lofty steeple and tower lopped off, St. Werburgh’s still a grand old lady. Her heritage permeates from her ancient foundations. Her namesake would be duly impressed with her church.

interior of St. Werburgh's Church
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